Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

The Atlantic | The Atlantic Publishes “The Great American Novels,” a New List of the Most Consequential Novels of the Past 100 Years

The list launches with events at the New Orleans Book Festival and on April 3 at the Strand, in New York—with The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen as one of the selected novel for 2015 for The Atlantic

Today The Atlantic launches “The Great American Novels,” an ambitious new project that brings together the most consequential novels of the past 100 years. Focusing on 1924 to 2023––a period that began as literary modernism was cresting and includes all manner of literary possibility, including the experimentations of postmodernism and the narrative satisfactions of genre fiction––the 136 novels on the list include 45 debut novels, nine winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and three children’s books. Twelve were published before the introduction of the mass-market paperback to America, and 24 after the release of the Kindle. At least 60 have been banned by schools or libraries. In an introduction to the list, The Atlantic’s editors write that, together, the books selected represent the best of what novels can do: “challenge us, delight us, pull us in and then release us, a little smarter and a little more alive than we were before. You have to read them.”

In 1868, the writer John William DeForest established the idea of the great American novel as a work of fiction that accomplished “the task of painting the American soul.” The Atlantic’s editors write, “In 2024, our definition of literary greatness is wider, deeper, and weirder than DeForest likely could have imagined. At the same time, the novel is also under threat, as the forces of anti-intellectualism and authoritarianism seek to ban books and curtail freedom of expression. The American canon is more capacious, more fluid, and more fragile than perhaps ever before.”

All of the books on “The Great American Novels” list were first published in the United States (or intended to be, as with The Bell Jar and Lolita). To narrow down the titles further, our editors approached experts—scholars, critics, and novelists, both at The Atlantic and outside of it—and asked for their suggestions. They write, “We wanted to recognize the very best—novels that say something intriguing about the world and do it distinctively, in intentional, artful prose—no matter how many or few that ended up being (136, as it turns out). Our goal was to recognize those classics that stand the test of time but also to make the case for the unexpected, the unfairly forgotten, and the recently published works that already feel indelible. We aimed for comprehensiveness, rigor, and open-mindedness. Serendipity too: We hoped to replicate that particular joy of a friend pressing a book into your hand and saying, ‘You have to read this; you’ll love it.’”

At The Atlantic, the list was led by projects editor Ellen Cushing, deputy editor Jane Kim, senior editor Gal Beckerman, associate editor Emma Sarappo, and literary editor Ann Hulbert.

The publication of the “Great American Novels” is part of The Atlantic’s robust and expanded Books section devoted to essays, criticism, reporting, original fiction, poetry, and book recommendations, along with The Atlantic’s weekly Books Briefing newsletter.


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